Athlete Spotlight: Danny Neff

Just like a Broadway star, Danny Neff likes to perform in front of a crowd. The bigger the better for the senior from Vandalia Butler High School.


“Big crowds, that’s the best,” Neff said. “It’s just so awesome.”


On May 8, Neff had the opportunity to showcase how well he does in front of the masses when he toed the line against hometown favorite Zach Wills in the 1,600-meter run at the annual Rod Russel Mason High Invitational. Wills, who is the reigning outdoor 3200m state titlist and the individual champion in the fall’s cross-country state meet, took charge through most of the race with Neff right on his heels. But with about 100 meters remaining, Vandalia’s finest unleashed a furious kick to win by a comfortable two seconds over the Mason sophomore, crossing the finish in 4 minutes, 12.2 seconds.


“I guess there was a story in the newspaper saying this was the race to watch,” recalled Neff, who also copped the 800m title at the meet with a strong 1:53.1 clocking (US #21). “Everyone came out to support him. There must have been a 1,000 people going nuts; everyone stamping their feet and going crazy. Everyone going crazy, but no one cheering for me. I was just going for a time, but once I started running I knew I had to just go for the win.”


Neff’s victory at the Mason invite is just the latest of stellar performances by the talented senior. The defending outdoor state titlist in the 1,600m, Neff captured both the 800m and the 1,600m at the OATCCC Ohio State Indoor Track and Field Championships on March 21.


Just about a month after he out-paced Wills on his home turf, the 18-year-old Neff recorded the nation’s fifth fastest time in the mile with a 4:09.86 clocking at the prestigious Arcadia (Calif.) Invitational on April 11, good for third overall among the elite competition.


In a couple more weeks, Neff will be focusing his efforts on accomplishing another double (800m, 1,600m) at the outdoor state meet in Columbus on June 5. He’ll also be aiming to possibly break the Ohio high school record in the 1600m of 4:05, currently held by Bob Kennedy, a two-time U.S. Olympian and the current American record-holder for the 3,000m and 5,000m.


“I got a (few) weeks left to try for it,” said Neff, who indicated the record can’t be set at the state championship. “If the weather’s good and the competition is there, I can go for it. But it won’t be easy. It’s a record because it’s that good.”




Neff, who will attend the University of Georgia on a track scholarship this fall, didn’t take a liking to track until his sophomore year in high school, even though the warning signs came early. In the fourth grade, he ran 2:30 in the 800m and clocked “about” a 2:05 by the time he left junior high.


Neff nearly broke two-minutes by time he was a freshman at Vandalia, but that didn’t provide any extra motivation to excel.


“I was a typical person that didn’t want to do much,” Neff said. “I would just do what I had to and then go home. I would never go the extra yard. Running is a painful sport. I think just this year, I actually enjoy that last 300 (meters) when you have to dig down deep.”


The turning point for Neff came as a sophomore where he finished out his high school track season by placing third in the 800 at the outdoor state meet with an impressive 1:53.99 clocking. In the summer of that year, he also competed in the Nike Outdoor Nationals, finishing 20th overall with another 1:53 effort.


“I don’t think it really hit me I could do something great in running until then,” Neff said. “I never really started enjoying it until I was a sophomore.”


Coached by Andy White, a former Milton-Union star, Neff generally trains about 55 miles per week with some quality speed workouts thrown in for good measure.


“I know kids that run more, but 55 is comfortable for me,” he said. “I’m trying to keep it as low as possible and fun as possible. I want to improve in college. Right now, I want to keep it fun and relaxed as possible.”


Of course relaxed for Neff is still very fast around the oval. In a speed workout prior to the Mason meet, he ran a series of 8-400s with limited rest. In the first set of four, with a minute between each, he was 61 seconds or better. The times got faster on the next set that included just a 45-second rest. He capped off the workout by running the final 400 in 56 seconds.

“That’s a pretty good workout for me,” he said. “Whatever it takes to beat the best.”


So far this spring, the best came at the Mason Invitational when Neff was able to hold off Wills. Before he leaves for Georgia in late August, where he‘ll be trained under the tutelage of distance coach Jeff Pigg, the Vandalia standout will be tested in a few meets he has marked on his calendar.


Besides the upcoming state meet, Neff is eyeing the Midwest Distance Gala in Chicago (June 13) and the Nike Outdoor Nationals in North Carolina (June 18).


“That’s what we are peaking for now,” Neff said.


That’s also where the big crowds will be, something that certainly has proven to push Neff to the limit.